Union in the News for February 9, 2007
Union offers new science
By Justin Mason - The Daily Gazette
Seldom do liberal arts studies intersect with courses in engineering science over the course of a typical undergraduate education.
But with the aid of a $1.6 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the two educational disciplines have forged a common ground at Union College at the newly established Center for Bioengineering and Computational Biology. College officials officially launched the new center Thursday on the fi rst floor of Butterfield Hall.
"The goal is to foster the exchange of teaching and research at the boundary between life sciences and engineering," said Steve Rice, the center's co-director.
Among other amenities, the center houses a state-of-the-art bioengineering teaching lab, two student-faculty research labs and an outreach center. Rice said the goal is to promote undergraduate research programs, while fostering curriculum development to one day offer bioengineering as a major.
As a result of this new discipline, Rice said, Union students can now study everything from the strength properties of bone tissue to evaluating the performance of prosthetics to understanding how dragonflies are capable of moving through the air.
The initiative to establish a multi-disciplinary curriculum is in response to a report issued by the National Research Council, which examined the role undergraduate institutions should play in crafting the next generation of research scientists in the biological and medical sciences.
Titled "Bio 2010," the study challenged colleges to produce students with stronger skills in quantitative and technical analysis, as well as a greater exposure to interdisciplinary research. For Union College, the directive couldn't have been a clearer sign to establish the program, said Leo Fleishman, chairman of the college's biology department.
"For Union, the way to meet this challenge seemed obvious," he said. "We have an entire academic division devoted to the kind of quantitative problem-solving that [the study] felt was so critical."
Fleishman said the new center will provide an area for relevantminded individuals to connect, while providing a mutual ground to help overcome the obstacles such collaborations can encounter.
"The tools and laboratory facilities of biologists and engineers are different," he said. "Our teaching lab and design shop are here for the purpose of overcoming those problems."
Two new courses are now offered at the center, which encompasses students from the biology, computer science, mechanical engineering and computer engineering departments. Rice said the goal is to eventually establish a major in bioengineering at the center.
"And we're well positioned because we have both liberal arts and engineering present," he said.